WHEN you go north of the border, prices go south. This simple fact now has shoppers from the Republic regularly travelling in droves to towns such as Newry to do their shopping.
The difference in terms of hard cash is more glaring now than it has ever been, with stg£1 now worth around €1.26, compared with €1.50 or more just a few months ago. That dramatic drop in sterling’s value has led to a huge increase in purchasing power for buyers from the Republic. No additional duty or tax is payable on goods bought in shops and supermarkets in Northern Ireland once the duty and tax have already been paid there.
Every day of the week, Newry is invaded by shoppers from the Republic, on the hunt for better value on a wide variety of goods. Newry has two shopping centres. The main one is the Quays. Just five minutes’ walk away is the smaller Buttercrane centre. The Quays has branches of many of the major UK multiples. The list includes Debenhams, Awear, Boots, Argos, Next, Oasis, Monsoon, Aldo, River Island, HMV and Waterstones.
Meanwhile, the Buttercrane centre has Dunnes Stores and Marks & Spencer, as well as Miss Selfridge, Holland & Barrett, Jessops, Dorothy Perkins, Burton, Virgin Megastore, Principles, Wallis and Mothercare.
When Money Talks visited Newry on Tuesday last, it was clear which shop in the Quays was attracting the lion’s share of the business. Although the centre itself was experiencing a typical midweek lull, there were queues at every one of the dozen or so checkouts at Sainsburys. Some checkouts even had two cash registers in operation. Unlike many supermarkets this side of the border, every checkout was manned.
There were even a few public announcements, apologising for the delays due to the crowds.
The first thing that was striking was the mood in the queue. It was markedly different from what one normally experiences in the Republic, and it wasn’t just because of the superior service. Here in the south, consumers are constantly reminded of how much we’re forking out in our local supermarket, over and above what we should be paying. Ireland has the dubious distinction of having the highest prices in Europe after Denmark. And so we stand in the queue, assailed by a wearying financial anxiety, preparing to be ripped off yet again, deflated by wildly inflated prices.
In the queue at Sainsburys, it was an altogether different story. People were visibly cheerful, chatting among themselves, animated by their decision to take charge of their spending and find a better deal. Not surprisingly, most of them were from the Republic.
One of them is Joyce Denver, from Balrothery, County Dublin. She and her husband Shane travel to Newry every six weeks. They do their supermarket shopping in Sainsburys, and purchase clothes for their young child in Next.
Joyce said groceries in Sainsburys are significantly cheaper than her local supermarket in Dublin.
“This week I spent €120, and the week before I spent €160 in Dunnes Stores (in the Republic) for the same goods. The rate is particularly good at the moment, so you can save a lot, ” she says.
Sainsburys’ car park is “always full of southern cars”, she adds. “There are tons of people from Dublin, and they always buy loads of drink.”
There’s a joke in Newry that you can easily spot the shoppers from the Republic, because they have two trolleys – one for food, the other for drink.
She reckons the best time of the week to go shopping in Newry is on Tuesday or Wednesday.
“Weekends are mad, especially on Sundays, when they don’t open till 1pm. Shoppers from the south don’t know that, so they’re all waiting to get in the door and it’s very, very busy.”
Also at Sainsburys was Lorna O’Grady from Dundalk.
She shops every week in Newry and said, quite simply, that “everything is better value here”. She saves €30 to €40 on her weekly trip for groceries.
Diarmuid McShane, editor of consumer awareness website Valueireland. com, recently shopped in Newry for Spanish wine. He bought a dozen bottles, saving €3 to €4 each compared with prices in the Republic.
“We were going to go to France to buy wine, but we opted for Newry instead, ” he said. “We bought several different wines just to sample them. So when we decide which ones we like best we can easily go back and buy a whole lot more.”
He reckons his next shopping trip there will be well worth the drive from Dublin, even after spending €35 on petrol for the journey.
How much can you bring back?
Shoppers from this side of the border are allowed to bring back up to 90 litres of wine.
However, you can bring more than this if you can prove that it’s for your personal use and that there are exceptional circumstances that explain the extra amount, such as that you’re having a wedding or 21st party, and are using the wine for that reason.
Up to 10 litres of spirits are allowed, plus 20 litres of sherry or port, plus 10 litres of beer.
The only conditions are that whatever you buy must be for personal use. You must keep your receipts as proof of purchase, and you must personally accompany the goods.